As river cruising continues to grow in popularity, lines are branching out and diversifying their products in order to target families and multigenerational travelers. It has mainly been considered a luxury vacation for retirees and baby boomers, but river cruising is now opening up to families.
What makes a river cruise appealing to families? Lots of things! A river cruise is generally much more organized than an ocean cruise, with port stops every day and shore excursions that are already included in the up-front cost. That means smaller ship bills at the end of cruise!
And there aren't any sea days. You are out exploring every day. European river cruising is an amazing experience for older children, tweens and teens that love history and learning about different cultures. What better way to bring medieval history alive than to visit a castle in Germany? Or encourage a budding artist with a visit to Monet's Giverny? River cruising is one of those vacations where the kids learn something. They try foods from different cultures and are enriched with activities such as language lessons, arts and crafts. And most cruise lines have bikes, which can be more fun for the kids than just walking around.
Because river cruise ships are smaller, you'll likely spend more time together as a family than you might on a large ocean cruise where everyone is off doing their own thing. Plus, river cruises are more casual than ocean cruises. No need to pack clothes for formal night. And on family cruise itineraries kid-friendly meals are offered, although, experiencing the local cuisine is often half the fun.
Here are some river cruise lines that offer family-friendly sailings:
AmaWaterways River Cruises - AmaWaterways is the first river cruise line to design a ship with groups and multigenerational travelers in mind. The two family-friendly ships, AmaStella and AmaViola, debuted in 2016. The accommodations include 12 staterooms that can house up to three family members each; six sets of adjoining cabins that can be connected via an internal doorway, accommodating families of up to five; and four suites with convertible sofa beds that can accommodate families of up to four. In addition, AmaWaterways has entered into a partnership with Adventures by Disney, a company that offers immersive adventures for families. Disney enhances the river cruise experience with family-oriented activities that can include a live falconry show at 900-year-old Hohenwerfen Castle in Passau; taking a carriage ride at Lazar Equestrian Park in Budapest; or attending a show of the Vienna Boys Choir during a holiday cruise.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection - Uniworld has increased the number of family-friendly itineraries over the years. The sailings on the luxury river line are designed to be fun and interactive. A sample of onboard activities include dessert-making with the ship's pastry chef, tasting local soft drinks with the resident Soda Sommelier, craft workshops and local language classes. The Young Travelers Lounge, available on all multigenerational Uniworld ships, has a PlayStation, a wide selection of games, movies and candy jars. Every family-friendly cruise itinerary also features onboard visits from local children or teens. Each night the child receives a special pillow gift from the destinations visited.
Tauck River Cruising – This luxury line was a pioneer in family river cruising, offering itineraries since 2010. Tauck is a fully inclusive river cruise line, with gratuities, hotels, luggage service, airport transfers, beverages and shore excursions included in the fares. Even meals in cafes off the ship are covered, as are treats such as ice cream on excursions and spending money on day trips or to the Prater Amusement Park in Vienna. Tauck’s program is all about bringing families together, so you won’t choose Tauck if you wanted time away from your kids. In fact, you're likely to see way more of them than you would at home. Activities on a Tauck river cruise are designed to be interactive and fun for both adults and kids. They can include sword fighting lessons, shooting arrows from a Middle Age cross bow, hiking tall mountains to visit castle ruins, biking through villages, riding the antique Ferris Wheel at the Prater Amusement Park in Vienna, navigating a hedge maze at a royal palace, dancing in an ornate ballroom, geo-caching and learning how to mold marzipan from a chef in Germany.
River cruising doesn't have very many negatives, but there are some things to keep in mind if ocean cruising is something your family really enjoys. River cruise ships will not have kids’ clubs, pools, water slides, alternative restaurants, arcades and other things that families might like on an ocean ship. Walking tours might work well for the older children, but sometimes aren’t the best for the younger ones. Except for the two purpose-built ships on AmaWaterways (Adventures by Disney), the cabins on river ships are not configured for more than double occupancy which means a family of four will need two staterooms. And river cruises do cost more up front than ocean voyages, but they also come with included excursions and other amenities included in the price that are an additional cost on an ocean cruise. If you have tweens and teenagers and you want to give them an awesome vacation that educates and enriches them, then I would consider a family river cruise. You wouldn’t be disappointed.